"It will probably only amount to $1 a month," Thayer resident Debbie Stark said Monday, Nov. 7, from Fun and Friends Senior Center in Thayer.
Stark, who has volunteered at the center for the past three years, said she has seen several "raises" in Social Security benefits that end up as no increase at all.
"The price of gas goes up, groceries go up, everything goes up," Stark said.
Senior Center Director Sheila Smith said about 90 percent of the center's patrons rely on Social Security as their sole source of income. Any decrease in benefits affects them severely, she said.
Oregon County, like surrounding rural Missouri counties, has a greater-than-average precentage of residents who receive Social Security benefits, either as senior citizens or disabled.
Carter, Howell, Ripley and Shannon counties also are more dependent on Social Security payments than is the rest of the country.
Hickory County, in central Missouri, had the greatest percentage of its population drawing Social Security benefits -- 39.5 percent -- followed by Benton and Wayne counties at 35.6 and 33.1 percent, respectively.
Pulaski, at 12.7 percent, Boone, at 13.5 percent, and Platte, at 13.9 percent, rate the smallest percentage of their population drawing benefits.
According to a recent Social Security Administration report and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, 5.5 percent of total personal income in 2009 came from Social Security payments nationally. In Missouri, 6.7 percent of all income comes from the benefits.
In Oregon County, 2,945 people receive some form of Social Security payment, either as an old-age pension, a survivor benefit or a disability check. Social Security beneficiaries represent 28.6 percent of the total county population.
In rural counties, Social Security payments constitute a much larger chunk of the local economy than in urban areas.
Changes to Social Security (now projected to run out of money by 2037) are being discussed in Congress, which is looking for ways to balance the larger federal budget.
If benefits are cut or if the eligibility age is increased, rural counties and small cities would be disproportionately affected.
Social Security last increased benefits in 2009. That increase was 5.8 percent. The year before, it was 2.3 percent.
A poll by a national senior citizens advocacy group in 2010 indicated that nearly two-thirds of seniors (61 percent) estimate their expenses increased by at least $80 per month compared to 2009.
Social Security checks were then lower because many seniors have their Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage premiums automatically deducted, which increased in many cases.
The annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) typically offsets such premium increases.
Medicare premium increases for 2012 have not yet been revealed.
Nationally, Social Security benefits represent about 41 percent of the elderly's income, according to the Social Security Administration.
Alton Senior Center Director Pam Simpson said the seniors who frequent her center, like those in the Thayer area, also rely more heavily on Social Security for their income, which makes the meals programs so important.
Many seniors have felt squeezed since banks are paying virtually no interest on savings accounts, and stock market declines have eroded their retirement accounts. Plus, health care and living costs skyrocketed.
The Alton center serves about 6,400 meals a month, most of those to senior citizens in their homes. The meals are delivered by a host of volunteers who are reimbursed only for their mileage.
Many of the seniors receiving the home-delivered meals would not have enough to eat if it were not for the program, Simpson said.
In Thayer, about 80 people eat lunch in the center on weekdays. Another 380 meals are delivered Monday-Friday to the Koshkonong, Thayer, Myrtle and Couch areas.
In all, Thayer prepares and serves about 8,000 meals each month. Most of those meals go to senior citizens, Smith said.
Going forward, Social Security beneficiaries may not see such generous COLA increases.
As part of the debt reduction talks, lawmakers are looking at changing the formula upon which the annual increase in based.
This could lower the COLA increase by several tenths of a percentage point.